Writer of the Month
May – EMBA
To celebrate this year’s fantastic shortlist, we’ll be featuring the East Midland’s Book Award authors in the countdown to the award ceremony on the 20th June, where the winning author will receive a ?1000 prize.
John Gallas was born in 1950 in Wellington, New Zealand. He came to England to study Old Icelandic in 1972. He has been a teacher of children with special needs for twenty years, most recently with the Leicestershire Student Support Service. John Gallas has published six earlier collections of poetry with Carcanet and edited the anthology of world poetry The Song Atlas (2002).
Writing East Midlands caught up with John to talk about his writing:
Congratulations on being shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award 2013. How do you feel?
Pleased and honoured, especially as the recognition comes from my own local area.
Could you tell us a bit about Fresh Air and The Story of Molecule?
It’s a Double Book. Fresh Air is a collection of poems written while on the move, outside, in the rain, in cars, canoes, buses, planes, Pacific heat, Campbeltown drizzle, tramping, climbing, cycling, in a big notebook that is now sunbleached and raincorrugated. Molecule is the story of a 12 year old NZ boy who sets off on his bike to escape Evolution : he travels over the north part of the South Island, avoiding the police, meeting weirdos, and trying to deal with So Much Nature. The tale is told in 107 sonnets. It is published by Carcanet.
Being a writer based in the East Midlands, how do you feel about the opportunities on offer in the region?
They are huge. Over the years I have taught/done workshops in East Midlands schools, hospitals, adult education centres, PRUs, museums, galleries, festivals, supermarkets, airports, beauty spots, churches, libraries, collieries, factories and barges, for all ages and abilities. Radio Leicester, Leicester writing groups, the Writing School in Wellington Street and places such as The Bookshop in Kibworth, Snibston Colliery and all our libraries are all keen and happy to ask for poetry events and poems. There is a whole bundle of poetry societies for meetings, readings, competitions and nights out, and the Universities and Colleges of the region, and even LCFC, cooperate with creative schemes and events regularly. There are local publishers and festivals (such as The Comedy Festival), and large schemes (Memories & Voices, Jewish Voices) that need, and employ, local writers. And the first Leicester Book Fest, organised by Debbie James (see Facebook) gets going next month. Opportunitiy ? One event is the launch of 52 Euros, my Carcanet book of European poets in translation.
What advice would you give to emerging writers?
Revise, revise, cut, cut, expose, expose.
Can you tell us about your writing process? What do you find to be the most exciting part, and why?
1. Inspiration – slow-burning, making connections, the first spark, can be anything.
2. First draft – alarming, draining, frightening, done with great reluctance, rakes the soul, do anything to avoid.
3 Serious Tinkering – most enjoyable, technical delights, deep bit done with, polishing, buffing, forming and smiling.
The whole process seems to me like trying to reach and see the poem, already written in its perfection and hiding somewhere, by parting mists, hammering through rocks, and exploding mountains – because when a word or a phrase, or, finally, the poem falls right, I know it is right. Which is a bit spooky.
As you are an East Midlands author I wondered if the region affects your writing, perhaps by giving it a ‘sense of place,’ or a particular voice or identity, in any way. Or is this not a great factor in your writing?
I write a lot in Leicesterish, those interesting verb numbers and final ‘y’s especially, as it gives poems a characteristic edge, and the subject of my writing is often local places and people, from Kelmarsh and Coalville churchyards, and a set of Biking Bilstone Ballads, to John Heaney boxing and William Bees (VC) fighting, Leicester City’s vagaries, and the glories of countryside around French Drove, where I bike and caravan, and the fields of Rutland, where I walk. I have just completed a small collection of poems (to be published next year) called Rhymes With Hay about those fields: pictures by local Leicester printmaker Sarah Kirby.
Who, if anyone, has had the biggest influence on your writing and why?
Influences, especially in poetry, are a complex and unaccountable thing. What I can say is that there are echoes of a hundred other poets in my work, intended or not, but that my acknowledged masters have to be Chaucer, Crabbe, John Donne, Hardy (poems), and the most wonderful of all and ever, Samuel Beckett.
What are you working on at the moment? What are you hoping for next in your writing career?
Carcanet have just published 52 Euros, translations of European poets (a double, male and female, A-Z) ; PigHog Press are to publish Rhymes with Hay, and Cold Hub Press (NZ) Pacifictions, both with Sarah Kirby pictures; I have just completed my one and only ever piece of (a bit poetic) prose, a novel of murder, treachery, murder, violence, murder, rain, murder and murder in the NZ goldfields late in the 19th century; also just completed a full-length 21st century Dante, The Little Sublime Comedy, and 3 travel collections on Andalucia, Efate (Vanuatu) and Rajasthan. At present (for the last few days) I am Thinking.
The East Midlands Book Award winner will be announced at the Award Ceremony at Barnsdale Lodge on the 20th June as part of Oakham Festival. You can download the full festival brochure here.
Interested in reviewing the EMBA 2013 shortlist? with the opportunity to have your review published on the Writing East Midlands website?
All reviewers will be entered in to a prize draw to receive two tickets to attend the prestigious award ceremony at Barnsdale Lodge in Oakham on 20 June. Find out more here.